Our Lord and Nicodemus

“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.” —John 3:1-13

THE ACCOUNT OF the interview of Nicodemus—a ruler of the Jews—with Jesus, is one of the most interesting of the many incidents in the Gospel story, illustrating as it does the attitude of at least some of the rulers of the Jews toward him whom the Father had sanctified and sent into the world. More important than this is the illustration it gives of the attitude of a learned natural man toward spiritual things, and his inability to receive and understand them.—I Cor. 2:14

The Pharisees were the ‘holiness people’ of their day, claiming special sanctity as a result of keeping the Law, manifesting scrupulous care for all its ceremonial features. Being spoken of as a ‘ruler of the Jews’, and a ‘master of Israel’, Nicodemus was very much like some of the powers in the churches of today. He was unable to grasp spiritual things on account of being a natural man, and unable to receive the things of the Spirit of God, or to understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.—I Cor. 2:14


The account states that Nicodemus ‘came to Jesus by night’, and it has been suggested that he went at that time because he did not wish to be seen visiting such an unpopular person as Jesus was with the scribes and Pharisees, and he was ashamed to have it known that he was in any way influenced by his message. On the other hand, it may be said that night would be the most convenient time for a quiet conversation—especially in view of our Lord’s busy life of teaching, his performing of miracles, and frequently having great multitudes following him.

For instance, when the friends of the man “taken with a palsy” wished to take him to Jesus, there was such a throng of people surrounding the house that the only way to obtain access to the Master was by making an opening in the roof, and lowering the sick man to the feet of Jesus. (Luke 5:18,19) On another occasion we read that there were so many going and coming to see our Lord and his disciples, that they had not even time to eat. (Mark 6:31) Furthermore, we need not think of Nicodemus coming at the ‘dead of night’, but merely after dark—almost the only time available for a busy man to make a call.

His approach to our Lord was very respectful: “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” (John 3:2) From our Lord’s reply (vs. 3), it is quite evident that only part of the conversation is recorded; also, it seems clear that the great subject of Messiah’s kingdom, in which every Jew believed, must have been mentioned. “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born [*begotten] from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus had evidently heard that Jesus was preaching that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Possibly he heard that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah—the great king—in that kingdom.

*The Greek word gennao can be translated either “begotten” or “born,” depending on whether the subject is the father or the mother. In this case, it should be translated “begotten,” because God, the Father, is involved.

But in view of our Lord’s complete absence of political influence, and with only a handful of followers from among the common people, Nicodemus was, naturally, perplexed that such claims should be made. Hence Jesus emphasized the fact that a man must be begotten from above if he would ‘see’, in the sense of understanding, about the kingdom in its embryonic stage during the Gospel Age. For instance, the Apostle Paul later said, God “hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col. 1:13), suggesting that God’s people, when begotten from above, enter into a spiritual world, with new hopes, aims, ambitions, interests—old things having passed away, and all things having become new.

The apostle says: “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 14:17) Christians, prospective members of the kingdom, are not restricted in the use of food, as were the Jews under the Law Covenant; nor are Christians bound to keep one day in seven as a day of physical rest, although, when possible, it is wise and advisable to do so. It has often been proven that, over a period of time, a man can do more and better work in six days than in seven. However, as prospective members of the kingdom, our liberties, privileges, and blessings are much greater than freedom to eat what we like, or liberty to busy one’s self with some work on the first or seventh day of the week. Some of the chief blessings we enjoy are ‘righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit’.

In spite ‘of centuries of effort, righteousness or justification was not enjoyed by any Jew as a result of keeping the Law. Peace with God was not the possession of any in natural Israel. The Law only condemned, and told God’s typical people that they were short of the divine requirements, and therefore under judicial condemnation. Neither was joy resulting from the operation of the Holy Spirit the portion of any, until at Pentecost after our Lord’s resurrection. We see how true it is that a man must be ‘begotten from above’ before he can understand or be acquainted with the kingdom of God and the blessings to be enjoyed by those called to the kingdom during the Gospel Age.


In Nicodemus’ questions, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” we see the operation of the natural mind, with its ability to reason only on the level of earthly things. And in his reply, Jesus enunciates a further vital truth which can be fully appreciated only by those who have been Spirit-begotten. “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) To ‘see’ that kingdom, one needs to be ‘begotten from above’; but to ‘enter into’ that heavenly phase of the kingdom to which the church is called, it is necessary not only to be ‘begotten’, but also to be ‘born’ of the Spirit. As Paul says, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” (I Cor. 15:50) A new spiritual body must be received before we can be forever with the Lord.

This Spirit birth, our Lord tells us, is brought about by means of two things: ‘water’ and ‘Spirit’: (1) the cleansing, sanctifying power of the water of truth—living by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God; being built up by the word of his grace (Acts 20:32); (2) the operation of the Holy Spirit, quickening our mortal bodies in the work of sacrificing the flesh, renewing and transforming our minds that they may become more and more like the mind of Christ. (I Cor. 2:16) In this way we are prepared to be ‘born’ as spirit beings in the resurrection. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”—vss. 6,7

Our Lord here tells us that there is more than one kind of begetting and birth. As the begetting and birth of the flesh is a real thing, so the begetting and birth of the spirit being is just as real and necessary, if one would enter the heavenly phase of Messiah’s kingdom. However, as the record suggests, Nicodemus continued to marvel; he failed to grasp our Lord’s meaning. How frequently has this been the experience of the Lord’s people since that time, as they have come into contact with well-meaning natural men! (I Cor. 2:14) It has been well said, “The most profound knowledge of mathematics, or oriental dialects, does not qualify a man to judge pearls and diamonds.” Still less does it fit him to recognize spiritual truths.

In John 3:8, Jesus seems to say: ‘Let me give you an illustration of the powers possessed by one born of the Spirit:’ “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” From this we gather that to man, spirit beings are like the wind, invisible and powerful; and their means of locomotion is very rapid. (Dan. 9:21) To use a common expression, they are able to go and come like the wind. Even with this explanation, Nicodemus, still handicapped by his natural mind, replied, “How can these things be?”—John 3:9


There is no record in the Bible that Nicodemus became a disciple of Jesus. However, we know he defended Jesus before the Sanhedrin. (John 7:50) The Pharisees and the chief priests had sent officers to take Jesus captive (vs. 32), but when they returned without Jesus they asked why they had not brought him, their reply was, “Never man spake like this man. Then answered them the Pharisees, Are ye also deceived? Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him? But this people who knoweth not the Law are cursed. Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,) Doth our Law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth? They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.” (vss. 45-52) What the Pharisees did not know was that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem of Judea, not in Galilee.

When Jesus was crucified, Joseph of Arimathea—who was a disciple of Jesus, though secretly—asked to take the body of Jesus for burial. Pilate granted the request, and together with Nicodemus, who brought embalming spices, they buried Jesus in a sepulchre owned by Joseph. (John 19:38-42) These events suggest that Nicodemus had a great interest in Jesus and his teachings. McClintock and Strong report on traditional writings which say that after the resurrection of Jesus, Nicodemus became a professed disciple of Christ, and received baptism at the hands of Peter and John. All the rest that is reported of him is uncertain. It is said, however, that the Jews, in revenge for his conversion, deprived him of his office, beat him cruelly, and drove him from Jerusalem. Gamaliel, who was supposed to be his kinsman, sheltered him in a country house until his death, and, finally, gave him honorable burial near the body of Stephen.


As we review in our minds this interesting meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus, how thankful we should be that, as a result of our faith in the Redeemer and consecration to God through him, we have been enabled to lay aside the natural mind. By being begotten from above, we ‘see’ the kingdom of God, appreciate the things of the kingdom, understand the conditions for membership in the kingdom, and the work of the kingdom, now aid in the future. But, actually to enter into that kingdom, we must be born of the Spirit.—John 3:5

Dawn Bible Students Association
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